Does your museum, nature center, zoo or visitor oriented space want more visitors? Do you want that visit to be memorable? How can your site become more well known?
There’s a small town of 3,000 people in southern Illinois, 100 miles away from any city, where manufacturers were leaving, businesses were closing down, and people were moving away. One man decided to change that by creating iconic pieces or what I call “Big Wows.” Now the town of Casey, IL is a tourist attraction generating 1,000s of visitors.
Over ten years ago we worked with Lake County Forest Preserve at Fort Sheridan. During the exhibit design phase we came up with a concept to create an outdoor classroom in the form of an over-sized Red-Tail Hawk’s nest. This “Big Wow” exhibit has been a big hit. Nan Buckardt, Director of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, at the preserve said the nest is an anchor. It sparks people’s memories. Kids will say, “let’s go to that nest place,” they may not remember the name of the park, but they remember the nest. There is also a bunker with an anti-aircraft gun and sandbags. Buckardt said both of these immersive experiences are anchors and spark conversation.
Creating big iconic elements amplifies the visitor experience and can help you become known. Our client at Horicon Marsh understood this when they added a life size rebar Woolly Mammoth and Paleo hunter as an entry experience to their learning center. Bret Owsley, Wildlife Management District Supervisor of Wisconsin DNR, said, “the mammoth is the most photographed thing in the state of WI.” All visitors take a picture with it. And, of course, they share it on social media. These big wows create a sense of wonder, excitement, and lasting memories.
Five Reasons Why You Should Create Memorable Experiences
- First, like Nan said, people will remember it.
- Second, people will capture it (take a photo) and share it. A day at your site becomes performance. It enhances the status of your visitors when they share the cool things they are seeing and doing.
- Third, people want these types of unique experiences. Tap into the desire for experiences and create them for your visitors.
- Fourth, they educate. For instance the hawk’s head viewer allows the visitor to view birds at their proper scale. The mammoth informs people they lived at Horicon Marsh at one time. They spark conversation.
- Fifth, people enjoy the anticipation as much as experiencing it. If they know they will soon see your “big wow” their enjoyment will begin way before they visit.
The Experience Economy mentions five keys to successfully theming an experience that is compelling and captivating.
- The theme must alter the visitor’s sense of reality. Take them away from everyday life.
- This alteration should change one’s sense of reality by taking them to a different space, time and place.
- Space, time and place (or matter) needs to be integrated into a cohesive realistic whole.
- Themes are strengthened by creating multiple places within a place. For example, the American Wilderness Experience takes you through five different biomes.
- The theme should fit the character of who you are.
What “big wows” can you create to offer a high value experience for your visitors? Here’s some examples for inspiration.